Sexy Data: The Top 5 Fastest Growing Styles of Craft Beer

I love reading Paul Gatza’s blog posts over at the Brewer’s Association, mostly because I’m a bit of a numbers nerd when it comes to craft beer and he’s always sharing stats.  I love following the “story” of what’s happening in the rapidly evolving world of good beer.  It’s like my favorite soap opera.

The latest bit of data Paul shared were the Top 5 fastest growing styles of craft beer.  These are based on sales at food, drug and convenience stores since the beginning of the year.  I think they paint an interesting picture: 

  1. Stout  +61%
  2. Pilsner  +49%
  3. IPA  +40%
  4. Other Pale Lager  +38%
  5. Variety Packs +30%

First off, hooray for stouts!  Keep buying them people!  As a lover of dark beers, it makes me happy to see them doing so well, especially if it means the shelves will be stocked with more depth in the future. Perhaps the rise in stout and IPA sales detailed above shows that veteran craft beer drinkers have started buying more beer from food, drug and convenience stores ( the “if you stock it, they will come” theory).

It’s also interesting to see pilsners and pale lagers on the rise. These are the gateway beers, so one guess is that this growth is fueled by new people pouring into the fold.  This might also be the case for the growth in variety pack sales, as they are a great place for folks to start as well. Of course this is food, drug and convenience store data, so the sales growth of gentler beers might simply be due to the fact that these outlets have begun to stock more craft beers, and pilsners, pale lagers and variety packs appeal to the masses.

I’ll be honest and say that it is slightly painful for me to see the continued rise of the IPA.  Right now, seasonal beers and pale ales are the top sellers in food, convenience and drug stores, but Gatza estimates that IPA’s will continue to gain ground and take the sales crown in the next year or two.  While I’ve learned to love and crave IPA’s, I’ve been turned off by their dominance since I got into craft beer.  It always pissed me off that IPA’s took up so much shelf space that could have been dedicated to a wider variety of beers.  But the cash register rules, and it’s clear that folks love a good hop bomb.

So what do you think about this data? I think it’s a sign that craft beer has taken hold with non-beer-geeks, and that our little world won’t be so little for long, but that’s just my take.

Have you seen good beer popping up in new places in your neck of the woods?

As always, let us know below!




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Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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13 Comments on “Sexy Data: The Top 5 Fastest Growing Styles of Craft Beer”

  1. May 4, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    I think the rise of pilsners is a result of the trend to get more non-craft beer drinkers into the fold. I’ve had conversations with both the owner of Pints Pub and e rep from Bristol about this. Pint’s owner believes it’s a shift from the traditional ales that dominated the craft beer scene from the late eighties onward. He also said the only reason he brews lagers now is to appease the Bud drinkers who come in since he only offers house beers now. I definitely think it’s being used as as “entry strategy”.

    As far as the IPAs, again I think it’s a shifting of tastes. I welcome it because for years the fullest tasting beers from many smaller breweries were ambers and the occasional ESB.

    • May 4, 2011 at 11:03 am #

      I agree that IPA’s are better than ambers, so I’m with you there.

      I also agree that the growing popularity of lighter-beers is due to the fact that folks are getting into craft beer for the first time PLUS the fact that more outlets are stocking craft beer, and putting out the stuff with the widest appeal. It’s good business, and as a hardcore ABV fan who has discovered the subtle joys of sessionable fare, I welcome it.

  2. Steve
    May 4, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    I strongly disagree with your Pils analysis. Maybe it’s the Czech in me, but I am a huge craft beer enthusiast (and avid home brewer), but I still love a perfectly made, fresh Pils as much as any beer. It is the perfect beer in warm weather, too.

    • Steve
      May 4, 2011 at 11:23 am #

      I think the real reason is many craft breweries previously offering ales only now are offering lagers…

      • May 4, 2011 at 11:29 am #

        I agree that lagers are a great growth area, both for gaining new converts from Bud as well as showing beer geeks just how great lagers can be. I think we’ll see pilnsers and lagers continue to grow as beer geeks let go of the stigma brewers like Bud have placed on the style.

    • May 4, 2011 at 11:27 am #

      Oh, I’ve discovered the wonder of Pils the last year or so myself, and I think a lot of other ABV maniacs are also finding how wonderful a perfectly made pilsner can be. This point was actually in the first draft of the post. But as this is food, drug and convenience store data we’re looking at, I reasoned it was gateway sales more than beer nerds driving the pilsner and lager sales.

  3. May 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    The fact that the Canal’s Liquor Store in Berlin, NJ now has a very respectable craft and imported beer selection (thanks to The Alemonger for making me aware of this) says alot about what’s happening across the country. Berlin was Bud/Miller/Coors country for the longest time. I now have somewhere to pick up beer on the way to the In-Laws. My Father-In-Law is a Yuengling/Heinekin lager guy for the most part, but I have convinced him to try something funky on occasion, and he may have actually enjoyed it on most occasions. Or maybe he was just being polite. 🙂

    • May 4, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

      I’ve seen this at my local shop, too. I used to be lucky to get a Chimay there, and now they carry Firestone Walker. I even snagged a couple of bottles of Dragon’s Milk there the other night, and that stuff is super rare in these parts. It bodes well for the future.

      • Don
        May 4, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

        You know Jim, it would behoove you to get in tight with the owner of that local shop, and let him know you will buy cases at a time of the Dragon’s milk. He will probably order more when he is able! 😉

        • May 4, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

          Nope. He was only able to get one case (12 bombers). I got all he put out – three. The other three went to his other store, and two of his (smart) employees snapped up three apiece. It was like hyenas on a water buffalo in there.

  4. May 5, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    There are a lot of ways to interpret this data. I think the stout is one of the easiest styles to alter. Look at all the different ways Goose Island brews their BCS. You can add so much complexity and variation to a stout that a lot of other beer styles can’t handle. You can brew with various hop bills, bourbon barrel aging, fruit, Belgian yeast, coffee, oats, chocolate, etc. The stout has many possibilities.

    I think it’s been said several times above, but the Pilsner is the gateway craft beer has been looking for. Plus, a lot of craft brewers are hopping the hell out of these beers in creating something truly American. (I’m looking at you, Victory Prima Pils, you beautiful bitch.) Plus, the movement for more sessionable beers makes these and “other pale lagers” more necessary for craft brewers to make a buck.

    The IPA’s rise probably has to do with all the variations on the style over the last year or two. Brewers took the “more hops” route to its limit and are now experimenting with darker malts (hell0, Cascadian Dark Ale) and Belgian yeast. I suspect this trend will level off at some point as a lot of brewers make some pretty mediocre IPA’s. I went to a beer festival last weekend and almost every brewery offered some form of an IPA. Most of them were pretty lame attempts. Of course, this puzzles me as I brew IPA’s almost exclusively because they are so easy to get right.

    • May 5, 2011 at 11:42 am #

      Prima Pils is a great example of an Americanized pilsner – I keep it stocked all summer long.

      I wonder how much of this data has to do with consumer behavior and how much of it has to do with retailer behavior. As these are sales numbers for places that may just be starting to stock good beer, what we see in these numbers might be them adjusting their planograms (and replacing some of the macro facings) to include craft beers.


  1. 5 Fastest Growing Styles of Craft Beer « The Blog of James Powell - May 7, 2011

    […] Fastest Growing Styles of Craft Beer By jbpowell78 Don and Jim, the brothers behind Beer & Whiskey Brothers, have a great article on the top five craft beer styles. You know you want to check it out, and […]

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